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on 1 November 2006
I've just finished reading a review in the Telegraph on this book and here is part of it:

In Connemara, Listening to the Wind Robinson walks the mainland region where he has lived for the past 20 years - it stretches for 40 miles to the north-west of the city of Galway, a vast intricacy of stone, bog, involuted shoreline and scattered islands - in search of the same emotional and intellectual answer to the ground at his feet. The book begins by acknowledging another's passage across the same territory, in the story of a ghillie who died by the river he had worked for years.

His breath, says Robinson, was "dispersed into the air to be degraded by the hiss of rain or eroded molecule by molecule in the Brownian fidget of drifting pollen". Humanity is here merely one particle among countless others, an anonymous atom at the edge of the world.

Which is not to say that Connemara is in any sense sentimental about its author's, or anybody's, oneness with nature. The land that Robinson maps (he is also one of the area's principal cartographers: a cultivator, as he says, of the compass rose) is a palimpsest of human presence, much of it intrepid or tragic.

He recounts the story of Alexander Nimmo, the largely forgotten engineer of much of Connemara's infrastructure, details the protracted decimation of the bogs, and laments the long dwindling of island life.

"The keystone in a triumphal arch of suffering," he writes, is the historical fiasco of the potato famine - the desolate beauty of Connemara is haloed with spectres, and there are famine graves beneath the hedgerows about Robinson's village. "We find ourselves," he notes, "in a world compacted out of our forebears."

It ought to be obvious by now that Robinson is a stylist of exceptional cadence, tact and ingenuity. This is a writer who can describe a patient heron as "a monk grown grey and sinewy by fast and prayer", who on meeting a lone bull in a far-flung field remarks that the beast "seemed to incarnate the baffled surliness of a declining way of life".

At their most intricate, measured and exalting, his sentences sound like the sermons of John Donne, or the elaborate essays of Sir Thomas Browne. And yet: there is nothing antiquarian about this style; it may echo the voices of the great writers who have passed before him - Roderick O'Flaherty in the 17th century, Thackeray in the 19th - but Robinson's is a medium woven as much out of modern environmental science, land art and fractal geometry as it is from the sonorous periods of the past.

There has been a resurgence, in recent years, of art and writing about place and landscape. In books by writers as dissimilar as Iain Sinclair and Richard Mabey, in the essays of Rebecca Solnit and certain passages in W G Sebald, in the art of Tacita Dean and the films of Patrick Keiller, a sense of space persists: anxious, melancholy, novel or nostalgic.

Despite their varied talents, none of these can really be said to have attained Robinson's extraordinary intimacy with his subject, nor to have marshalled such a lucid array of resources as he deploys in practically every paragraph.

Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote that the west of Ireland was "the last pool of darkness in Europe". Robinson's Connemara is but the first volume in a projected trilogy; it already reads like a light shone on his adopted home's distant past, and on the whole planet's future.
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"Listening to the Wind" is the first of a promised trilogy of books about Connemara from Tim Robinson. This book is based around the village of Roundstone and its associated landscapes. The book seeks to document the so called "place lore" of the region, and in its most successful sections concentrates on the clear relationship between the people of the region and the landscape. The focus here is the way that the landscape has shaped the people and the way that the people have interacted with and interpreted the land.
The first section of the book (and I think the most successful) deals with the landscape of Roundstone Bog - the peat bog that dominates the landscape and land use of much of the area. Peat Bogs grow by the slow accumulation of past material, an undecomposed record of the past. The upper layers accumulate on the past, and the past controls the upper layers, the present. The current land surface is rooted (literally) in the past. This is clearly the way in which the author views Connemara as well. At one stage an explanation of a current event begins with a reference to the Battle of Hastings! This whole approach links both the present to the past and people to the land.
This structure seems to be abandoned for a long section on the owners of a property called Ballynahinch - and while the various fortunes of the house and its owners mirror much of the political change of the last many years, it did not seem as linked to the landscape as the rest of the book.
This is a dense and detailed book which generates a very clear picture of the land and its people and would seem to be the start of a remarkable sequence.
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on 20 September 2007
This is one of those real achievements, a book that really invokes the spirit and the feel of a place.

Connemara is often categorised as a travel book but it doesn't so much detail a journey rather than a long experience of exploring one place.

Tim Robinson, while a Yorkshireman, has been living in Connerara for some time. He has studied local sustoms, history and folklore. He has mapped the bogs and the lonley hills and charted the positions of all kinds of historical finds.

This book is the sum of his recent life's work. Here you will find wonderfully evocative chapters on the sea, the islands, the bogs, hills and mountains, together with essays on the history of local people and the land owners who established and then ran the place.

This is a rare gem the really captures the spirit of this part of Ireland. But you don't have to know Ireland to appreciate it. Robinson reveals the area - and tells his stories - in such as way as to make the compulsive reading for anyone interested in people, culture and places - wherever in the world they are.

A real treat.
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As the last century waned, it was a friend's 50th birthday bash that provided the much overdue excuse for my first visit to the land of my ancestors (more precisely, one-fourth of them). It was being hosted in Sligo, on the west coast, a relatively short drive of 200 plus km from Dublin airport. Sligo is W.B. Yeats country, where he spent his childhood summers, and now contains his grave. The western coast of Ireland is purportedly the "real" Gaelic Ireland, and Sligo contained a wonderful bookstore that was my introduction to Tim Robinson, who could explain so much about this area that my eyes were just skimming over. It was in that bookstore that I purchased Stones of Aran: Pilgrimage without actually knowing where the Aran Islands were. I would be informed. The book is structured as a walk around the island's coast, with many digressive historical, biological, and sociological commentaries. Robinson is an erudite polymath. Everything interests him, and he can explain arcane facts and relationship so well. It was an overwhelming pleasure to read. How much can be said about one relatively small island? Well, more, since he wrote a second book on the interior of the island Stones of Aran: Labyrinth (New York Review Books Classics). Both works are fairly dense, and the latter is not repetitive. Each deserves a 6-star rating.

I didn't know where Connemara was either, but I knew I would be in "good hands" with Tim Robinson. It is on the mainland of Ireland, and the town of Roundtree, which is Robinson's home, is only 30 km from the Aran Islands. Historically, it served as the "wild west" of Ireland, and is about 120 km southwest of Sligo. This is the first of three volumes Robinson has written on this area, where he and his wife have lived for the last 30 years. This volume confirmed Robinson's continued erudition, and ability to explain the interactions of humans and nature.

Bogs, midges, stony, Connemara is a tough land. Though "bogs" are the dominant geographic feature, Robinson eschews the temptation to use any of the generally negative metaphors associated with them. He covers the geology of the area well, starting from the time there was no Atlantic Ocean. He gently segues from topic to topics, and positioned himself to be a vast depository of the oral history of the area, which he checks and cross-checks with the written record, as attested to by the extensive bibliography.

Robinson peppers the historical account with numerous anecdotal stories. King Edward VII visited Connemara in 1903, and security was provided by numerous "plainclothesmen" all dressed identical, pretending to be bicyclists taking a break, all at very precise intervals. The author explained the practices of "booleying," which is similar to the practice of transhumance in the Pyrennes, whereby the summer six months, that is, from May 01 to November 01, were spent in the Maumturk Mountains, 30 km to the east of Roundtree, with the flocks. It was the women who kept the flocks, and the men worked at home. Inis Ni is a small island in the bay, just across from Roundtree, now connected to the mainland by a causeway. The author depicts its rustic, poor rural past, and its transition to the holiday home crowd of absentee owners. In another anecdote, the author goes out with some of the few remaining peat cutters, and learns their now dying techniques. It is a lot of work, for a fuel that is not that efficient. Roundstone experienced significant Protestant immigration during the 19th century, which came as a surprise to me, and Robinson depicts their vicissitudes.

A majority of Robinson's work is devoted to the land and ownership arrangements which briefly provided much to the "1% crowd" of the 19th century, but ultimately did not. The decisive event of this period was the totally failure of the potato crop due to fungal blight. Starvation ensured thereafter, aided and abetted by inept, incompetent, and/or willful neglect in terms of relief efforts. Mass emigration of many of the remainder followed, resulting in a largely depopulated Connemara.

The author's prose is fresh. Among many other examples, he writes that the tour buses would now "decant" 50 Germans, or Italians. At another point, he is searching for perfectly smoothed basins carved out of stone by a smaller stone and tidal action. Beartla, his friend is helping him, and he wants to take his picture next to one of the basins: "When I looked through the viewfinder I was intrigued to see that he had picked up a scallop shell and was holding it before him between his two hands in an oddly pious and almost girlish pose. Whether tradition was at work in him I do not know, but I was made to think of the cockleshell badge of medieval pilgrims to the shrine of Compostella, and of the cockleshell-shaped madeleine that is the emblem of Proust's pilgrimage through Time." Erudition, indeed.

If I had not read both books on Aran, I would have thought that surely this one volume would have exhausted all that is to be said of Connemara. I know better now, and look forward to the other two volumes. 6-stars.
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VINE VOICEon 19 November 2007
This is an evocative, highly eclectic book about the Irish wilderness of Connemara. How best to describe it? It's part natural history, part oral history, part topographical survey of the part of Connemara near Roundstone (this forms only part of a trilogy, we are told early on). However its breadth is also its great weakness. The lack of conventional structure and meandering around several issues without conclusion might be seen as charming, but I found it profoundly irritating.

The best parts are when Tim Robinson recounts local stories, preserving in print the lore of the old, which, in a generation would otherwise be forgotten. The author has a keen ear and writes well; often it seems as if you are I a dirty homestead or before a peat fire in some rural pub. Less interesting, I found, were detailed discourses on local nature, or Robinson's attempts at amateur archeology. When Robinson stops writing about people, the book gets bogged down and the narrative loses focus.

Essentially this is an in-depth local survey. Kudos to Tim Robinson for all the wider critical acclaim and huge sales, but to a non-resident or non-visitor to the area the majority of the book is only of marginal interest. I know many people have romantic visions of Ireland, but really, who's interested in, say, the uncovering of a disused well (as recounted at one point in enormous detail, yet without any real sense of the discovery's significance)? Indeed, could it be that the book's success owes more to misty eyed and idealized visions of Ireland than to what's inside the book's covers? Would Tim Robinson have been as successful if he'd written about the distinctly unromantic boglands of East Anglia or North Wales?

If that is the case, good luck to him. For he is a charming host, a good writer, clearly has a passion for his environment and Connemara's people and deserves his success. My gripe with his book is its eclecticism. Maybe when I next visit Connemara it will all fall into place; but as a one time visitor I found Listening To the Wind frequently difficult to penetrate and willfully obscure. To others never to have been there, it might seem entirely irrelevant.
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on 3 November 2015
Wonderfull book, so beautifully written and researched. great passages on geology, flora and fauna. I think much of the detail might be lost on someone unfamiliar with the landscape, on the other hand if you cant get to Conemara its a sphagnum up view of it.
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on 21 October 2014
Lovely book
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on 8 April 2015
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on 21 March 2015
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